Ill At Ease Recording Insights [Part 2]


PART 2 – A historic insight on the Ill At Ease Recording Sessions

If you missed Part 1 you can find it here, now on to Part 2…

First Time

This was written around the same time in the same rehearsal space – I wanted something that was a grinding bass line – that sort of tank moving forward sort of thing – I can remember writing the lyrics – this was right during split up. I remember seeing a Bird of Paradise growing in the front garden of our house while it was being prepped to sell, and it sort of filled me with sadness, and I wrote something later called Bird of Paradise, in my notebook, lyric ideas – anyway some lines/poem which was about letting things go – and I wrote about “..for the first time in my life it seems I’ve withdrawn from the perfect image, and when I did, when it was done, I didn’t even want to know her name..” Something like that. I was trying to express all the stuff about, separation, moving on, removal from ideas of a projected life in some manner that is comfortable, and just saying fuck all this – I don’t need it – I’m moving forward.

I needed to be strong at the time, and so I wrote something that tried to reflect that. It was a version of “drive on, don’t mean a thing” mantra meaning “I will process this all later”. I didn’t need to have an emotional breakdown then and there – I could do that later!  It was a hard, hard time – but everyone goes through these things – life is never all roses, it always has the ability to just rise up and smack you in the head like a sucker punch to an unsuspecting victim.

Wrote that at our band room in Coglin Street Brompton though. I don’t recall how we came up with all the riff-a-rama and weird timings – probably just made sense at the time – whatever felt right and then work it out and repeat over and over until everyone got it. We definitely wrote that at the band room at my house. The one that was sold later when the marriage split occured – that drove the lyrics for that.

Now we must have recorded that as a demo? Because somehow I had a tape of that – what I seem to recall was a demo version of that existed. We were also rehearsing at a place off Richmond road as well – lots of places after there wasn’t a band practice room at my place. I think I was moved back at my parents too, when I listened to First Time, played it on a Fostex four track, and I just had the drums on in headphones and then I used those same drums to write Point Man – which is why many of the same odd counts and timing in First Time end up in Point Man.

The recording was straight forward – we were at a studio in a guy’s house – Tony Nesci. Henry came to Adelaide and we did the recording and mix while he was over. The Engineer Tony Nesci got dressed in a suit for some unknown reason, just before Henry arrived, I think he thought he was meeting royalty. He introduced himself to Henry, then rushed away, only to come back minute slater dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and he said, ”Henry, you’ll just have to take me as I am, this is me, this is how I dress”, as if somehow Henry had forced this suit arrangement on him and now he just had reveal that he wasn’t really a suit wearing sort of guy.

At that point I think we all knew there was an inherent instability to some extent involved in Tony’s life. Tony also tried to forbade Kim and I from wearing ripples in his house, because it made grooves in his carpet. Our relationship with Tony was actually fine – although we walked out on the very first session we ever did with him. We’d been offered to record a track for a compilation album of Adelaide bands, and we arrived, started setting up – it was the first time we’d met the infamous Tony Nesci. He was known for making statement to bands like “Remember you’re just the paint, I’m the artist”…

Anyway, we starting setting up, and we asked Tony to make sure he included, a Direct Input (or DI) for Bass as well as a mic’d version for recording the Bass. He refused. We explained that we had found it was a good policy and it offered us some latitude during the mix. He said he would not do it, that he was the engineer and that was that. SO, we said, OK, see you later and we started packing up all our instruments, preparing to go – we didn’t care if we did the compilation or not.

Tony came running out of the control room, “bboys, boys what are you doing”. We said we weren’t going to record, see you later. He seemed terrified we were going to leave “Surely we can work this out”. We explained it was easy to work out, just include a DI and a Mic and we would be fine. He then suddenly consented. I don’t think he’d ever worked with band with our sort of attitude before. Most bands would leap at the chance to record and would do anything they were told to if it meant getting on a record. We once worked with Kim Horne who had mixed the Exploding White Mice’s album, a Nest of Vipers. He was a really difficult person to work with. After our experience with him we vowed to never have an outsider tell us what was ok or not ok within the studio. Ie We are paying you, so you work for us, understand that and we’ll get on fine….

Tony also had to load this special program into his recording equipment each morning, it was password protected and no-one could watch him do it – this was his “Nesci-Sound” He would joke the only way anyone could get it would be to cut off his head and extract it somehow – We might have actually thought about it a couple of times, but just not the extraction part…(just kidding!)

None of the mixes were automated. It was all hands on deck, Henry riding some faders, Nesci riding some faders, Kim and I as well – release some reverb at a certain time etc. Make a mistake and you did it all over again. One day Tony got frustrated at a part in the mix of one of the songs, and he was supposed to trip a delay at a certain point in the vocals. He kept missing it – then blamed me because “If you could just learn to sing…” I knew I didn’t need to reply because Henry was already unloading on Tony – Henry told him to stop being a bitch and get it right. Somehow we all still managed to be friends, Tony really cared strongly about getting things right and there’s nothing wrong with having that sort of work ethic. Most of the time it was laid back, and almost a private Rollins spoken word show. Always great topics being discussed, creepy crawls, how Rollins and Joe met, current girlfriends, stories about DC, police harassment of Black Flag.

So, First Time was lots of G ad A as per usual. Really enjoy that song too.

John Scott